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5 MBA Interview Tips to Impress the Best Admissions Teams

15 Jun 2017

An MBA interview is usually a 30 to 45-minute affair - a pretty standard timing that applies to most jobs too. Smart dress, hair well kempt, a friendly demeanor, and turning up in advance of your allocated interview time are basics that every reader will, or most certainly should, be aware of.

Acceptance rates at top business schools vary broadly. If you're thinking of applying to Stanford Graduate School of Business, for example, be advised that only 417 admitted students enrolled in its class of 2018 out of a total of more than 8,000 applicants - this is held as being the hardest MBA admissions team to please in the US. Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management, UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business, and Columbia Business School follow in having some of the lowest acceptance rates around.

This emphasizes the importance of the MBA interview, both from your perspective and that of the business school seeking to identify the most talented applicants before them. In the interview, top business schools will probably be assessing four things; personality traits, knowledge, goal clarity and communication skills. Here are five tips to help you succeed in an MBA interview, supported by feedback provided to us by admissions managers and directors from some of the world's top business schools.

1. Know the top business schools and programs to which you're applying
Research and planning are at the core of almost any successful project, and if you're aiming for the top business schools, you've really got to know your stuff.

"We want applicants to come into the interview, comfortable and prepared. Show us that you・ve done your homework and fully researched our program," says Michael Holaday, UBC Sauder School of Business・ director of recruitment and admissions.

With the goal of coming across well versed (but not over-rehearsed), go through the schools' websites, read related media, watch online seminars, and discover the business school's faculty. Professors may be teaching subjects that you have a particular interest in, or that relate to your post-MBA career ambitions. Assess how each school talks about itself - this is language you can incorporate into the MBA interview.

Gauging the school's culture is also important. Reach out to current students and alumni to find out more about the student experience and different classes, what teaching methods the school uses, and so on. Through direct feedback, you might also get firsthand views on the MBA admissions process, and who conducts the interviews.

2. Prove to MBA admissions that you've got the skills and knowhow
A common first request made by MBA admissions (or it could be a student or alumnus of the school) is to run them through your résumé, or make the simple request for you to 'tell me about yourself・. Try to keep the answer to these sorts of question relevant to the needs of the MBA, concise, but also natural (yes, it's easy to say).

Once the interviewer has that general overview, they will likely want to target aspects of your experience to evaluate how you work in a team, lead a team, handle conflict, problem solve, set goals, and so on. A typical request is, for example, to explain how you delivered a project within a very tight deadline. In cases such as this, Michigan State University's admissions director, Paul North suggests that you, "use the STAR (situation, task, action, result) approach and keep your answers to less than two minutes."

3. Know the questions that are particular to MBA admissions
Tough questions may be fired your way, questions pertaining to your choice of recommenders, to the timing of your application and to your future career ambitions. A review of your résumé might also incite the MBA admissions team to ask about changes in your career - so be prepared. In addition, it・s important to look at your application objectively for weaknesses - get a good friend to review it, if that's any help. Once you've highlighted what these weaknesses might be, strategize on how you're going to present these positively.

Useful advice from James Holmen, the Kelly School of Business' director of admissions and financial aid is to, "review your application and essays prior to your interview. Consistency between what you say in your application and what you say during your interview will be beneficial."

4. The MBA interview is a dialogue: Ask intelligent questions
"Don・t forget that the interview is a two-way dialogue, an opportunity for you to get to know [us] better and thus, ensure that you are choosing a program which is right for you," states Pejay Belland, director of marketing, admissions and financial aid at INSEAD. If you don't ask questions during interview, the school may think you're not interested in them. Try to veer away from asking questions that can be answered easily on the school website. Instead, think of questions that relate to your professional and personal interests.


5: Rehearse
The key is to rehearse to the point where you don't sound rehearsed, but sure of yourself, and sure of your experience, knowledge and goals. You want to come across as a good communicator and listener. Write up all of the questions you think you'll be asked and record yourself (smartphones are perfect for this). Practicing helps you to hone your answers, to work on your manner and your tone - this way there will be less garble and fewer digressions, making you come across in your MBA interview as prepared and polished as you can be.


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